Love and Politics
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)
The current political situation has become even bitterer than before. A lot of people are angry. A few are asking, “What can we do to find solutions?” Fewer still are asking, “What went wrong?”
I think I have an advantage here. I’ve lived in a major city, and I understand why Trump terrifies people. I’ve lived in rural communities, and I understand why so many people would never vote for Hillary and the status quo. (I think we need to get honest about the fact that we were given two lousy candidates to choose from, but that’s another story.)
Do we accept the premise that people voted for Trump because they’re racists? Then how do we explain that Hillary won the fewest counties of any Democrat since 1984? Counties that voted for a black president suddenly became racist and voted for Trump? That makes no sense. We have to look for a better reason that rural voters chose Trump despite his racist remarks.
Are liberals willing to listen to the litany of complaints about how the federal government has mistreated rural areas over the past sixteen years? It’s not about Obama’s birth certificate, though that became an easy tagline. It’s about the militarization and overreach of government agencies, the failure of rural economies to recover, and the erosion of rural values. And yes, many of these can be laid at the feet of President Bush. It’s also about how ACA screwed many small business owners, and there’s a higher percentage of small businesses in rural areas. It’s about how home-cooked school lunches were discontinued under Obama, and standard cafeteria lunches (i.e. junk food) imposed. I doubt that change had much impact in urban settings, but in Parowan, UT it was a dramatic shift for the worse, and was seen as gross government interference. And yes, it’s about the loss of control, and the perception that cities are getting favorable treatment, and that no one is listening to the vast rural areas of this country. Some of the worst poverty in this country is in rural areas, but it’s far less noticed and discussed.
Are conservatives willing to listen to the complaints of liberals? Cities are by nature diverse. They want to get along with their neighbors of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. (No one wants a repeat of Los Angeles in 1992!) They want more equity, and better access to health care in places where the cost of living may be twice as high, or more. They want education so they have access to the better quality jobs the city makes available. They want better infrastructure, because they have more infrastructure. And they want to see limits on weapons that can so easily kill large numbers of people– because there are large numbers of people.
The concerns of rural people are quite different. Their crime rates are typically lower, and for a rancher a gun is a tool. They react to gun control the way a carpenter might react if someone proposed banning “just the biggest hammers.”
Not all of these concerns are mutually exclusive, but some are. We cannot simultaneously have both more guns and fewer guns. That’s the flaw in a system that proposes a “one size fits all” solution. One size does not fit all. And whoever tries, half the country is going to hate. (And seriously, when urban people point to California as a model for gun control, and rural people see that California’s crime rate is still higher than theirs, why would they want that?)
When we live in our own little bubble (as most of us do), it’s hard to understand why the “other side” thinks the way they do. They must be ignorant. Or crazy. Or evil. Or racist.
They aren’t. I didn’t vote for Trump. He scares me. But so did Clinton. And that doesn’t make the people who voted for either of them evil. It shows they have different concerns, which apparently are so divergent neither side can understand (or even hear) the other.
Evil happens when we stop trying to understand. Evil happens when we make the “other side” the enemy. Even if we think they made us the enemy first!
Sure, we can react with anger and violence. Especially if we think they’ve already reacted to us with anger and violence. But what does that solve?
Instead, we might take a more Christian approach: Love our neighbor, even when he or she disagrees with us. Try to understand. Seek compromise. To paraphrase Jesus, if we wait for our enemy to come to us and ask for peace, what more are we doing than they are?